Our 4th person on the “Faces of Hunger Relief” list is one of our own: Connie Bledsoe. She is one of the most recognizable faces at the Arkansas Foodbank and is our longest tenured employee at 18 years strong. She has seen the impact hunger can have all across our state while she has worked with our agency members, but has never wavered as a passionate champion in the fight against it. She has played a big role in strengthening our agency members and coming up with ways to make them more efficient and stable. Because of that, the Foodbank is able to send out 67,000 meals a day across our 33-county service area.
Here is a look at how Connie got involved with the Foodbank and her journey the past 18 years.
What made you want to work at the Arkansas Foodbank? I had to use a food pantry once in the mid 90's. The people at the pantry treated me with dignity and respect. I felt like they were so happy to assist me and my two little girls. I worked for the Little Rock School District and was off for summer break. I decided to volunteer at the Arkansas Foodbank. I wanted to give back because of the kindness that the pantry showed me. After volunteering for a couple of weeks, I was offered an office position. I prayed about it and accepted the job because I felt this was where I was supposed to be.
What was it like when you started? When I first started working for the Foodbank, they had a small staff, one truck, and they provided food to many small pantries working in the same communities. The Foodbank was housed in an old UPS warehouse with uneven floors. We couldn't even drink the water because of the old pipes. I don't think many people even knew the Foodbank existed because of where it was located and there wasn't a lot of media coverage. I had never heard of the Foodbank until I had to use the pantry.
What has it been like to see the Foodbank grow to the organization that it is today? It has been amazing to see all of the growth and changes. The staff has tripled, we have 5 new trucks picking up and delivering food throughout our 33 county service area. We have a brand new facility. I could go on and on about the wonderful changes. Everybody knows who and what the Arkansas Foodbank is. Every time I turn around, I see the Foodbank on TV or hear them on the radio, etc.
Describe the importance of our agencies to the Foodbank? Our agencies are the arms and legs for the Arkansas Foodbank. They see the need first hand, in their community, at their churches, the school on the streets etc. There would not be a need for the Foodbank if we didn't have the member agencies.
You have played a big role in hunger relief in our state...Are there any experiences that stand out that make you feel proud of the work you have done? I am so proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization that makes a difference in people’s lives every day. Something that warms my heart is we appreciate our agencies. We have an annual luncheon and provide grants, to the members to purchase refrigerators, freezers, vehicles, food, pay utilities or the purchase gas to come pick up the food. I wish we could provide this to them more than annually. Most of our pantries are run by elderly volunteers. They provide to the needy out of the goodness of their hearts and feel that it is their duty to help their sister or brother in need. I can't take credit for anything. Now, after 18 years of working for the Arkansas Foodbank, I know that I am in the right seat on the bus!
What's the best part about your job? The best part about my job is the relationship/friendship that I have built with the member agencies. They are more like family. We have shared stories, laughed and cried together. I love my job and everyone that I work with.
The Foodbank is proud of the accomplishments that Connie and the Program Services team have made the past 30 years. Thank you Connie for being a Face of Hunger Relief.
At the Arkansas Foodbank, it goes without saying that our member agencies are the heart and souls of the operation. Many of them are volunteers, sacrificing their time to make sure members of their community are fed. Our third "Face of Hunger Relief” comes from a family who's spent five decades putting food on Arkansas tables. Her name is Joannie Cayce.
Cayce is the director of Cayce’s Charity, an emergency assistance organization that provides food, clothes, furniture and toys to families all over southern Arkansas at any hour of the day. With her home located next door to the organization's main building, she says she's awakened to see a line of people outside her doorstep waiting for food. But she doesn’t mind.
“Our family was born with a desire to serve others,” she said.
Cayce's mother, JoAnn, started Cayce’s Charity 55 years ago. Back then, she would go and purchase the food and distribute it to families directly from her car. These days, their distribution has grown so large that it takes an old antique store and a nearby gymnasium to store all of it. But the Cayces know that is what it takes. They live in an area in Calhoun County with no job market, and the majority of their neighbors have lived their entire lives in poverty. That's why the Cayce’s have gone the extra mile to help these families enjoy blessings that many of us take for granted.
“It gives me more joy to serve than anything else I can do,” Cacye said. “Every day I wake up with love for my fellow man.”
This past Christmas, Cayce’s Charity distributed 724 bags of food to men, women and children near Thornton, AR. Cayce even drove to all the rural areas to make sure everyone had a holiday meal. She said their thankfulness is the best gift she has ever received.
Her determination to help everyone around her is a big reason why the mission continues to grow year. In 2013, they distributed more than 117,000 pounds of food to families in need from the Arkansas Foodbank. And while Cayce and her mother have taken care of the charity for more than five decades now, she said she's not worried about its future. Her son Daniel is already a driving force at the charity, focusing on a new furniture recycling program they're offering. Daniel Cayce's name is on an award given out annually to an Arkansas high school student who best demonstrates selfless volunteerism on behalf of his or her community. During high school, Daniel helped feed kids and teens at nearby schools during the weekend, often putting the meals together himself.
In a letter Cayce wrote to the Foodbank in January, she stated, “Your help is what accomplishes our mission, revives our soul, and give hope and joy unspeakable to those we serve…I pray for us to be able to help more poor, relieve more suffering and accomplish even more for 2014.”
So as you can see, the Cayces are an integral part of life in Calhoun County. They've helped out so many families in more ways than one and for that, the Foodbank thanks you Joannie, Joann and Daniel for being passionate champions for the hungry.